Living With Polio

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (PL 101-336), signed by President George H. W. Bush on July 26, 1990, is first and foremost a civil rights law that establishes a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability.

For purposes of the ADA, a “disability” means a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of an individual’s major life activities, such as walking, breathing, and performing daily self-care; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment (PL 101-336: The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 1990). *

The law, divided into titles, covers employment (Title I); public services (Title II); public accommodations and services operated by private entities (Title III); and telecommunications (Title IV). The ADA protects people with disabilities against discrimination in the workplace with 15 or more employees and provides for reasonable accommodation while on the job.

In addition to protection against discrimination in the workplace, the ADA provides a guarantee of access to publicly-funded and privately-owned transportation including buses, light rail and rapid rail transit systems, and Amtrak. Airlines, in areas other than employment, are covered by the Air Carrier Access Act. The same guarantee applies to facilities used by the public, including but not limited to hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, stadiums, concert halls, grocery stores, hardware stores, shopping malls, retail stores, funeral parlors, gas stations, banks, and professional offices such as one of an accountant or attorney. Also included are parks, zoos, museums, libraries, schools, health spas, golf courses, senior citizen centers, as well as physicians’ offices and hospitals.

The services offered by state and local governments are covered, as well as access to all governmental facilities. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects people with disabilities from discrimination in programs and activities receiving federal funding. The section of the ADA covering telecommunications requires access to telephone service as well as closed captioning and listening devices for individuals with sight and hearing loss.

The ADA does not undermine more protective and stronger state and local laws. Religious organizations are exempt from most provisions of the ADA, yet many groups are working to make their places of worship and services accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Individuals experiencing the late effects of poliomyelitis may be using equipment such as braces, crutches, and wheelchairs for the first time and may not be aware of their rights to access as provided by the ADA. To begin to resolve problems related to any of the above issues, call 800-949-4232 (4ADA) to connect with the closest federally-funded regional ADA center.

Excerpt from PHI’s “Handbook on the Late Effects of Poliomyelitis for Physicians and Survivors.” © 1999

*ADA Amendments Act of 2008 was signed into law on September 25, 2008 by President George W. Bush. The ADAAA is not a revolutionary new law. It simply brings the law back to what Congress intended it to be when it passed the ADA in 1990. The Supreme Court, in 1999, started to narrow the definition of disability. For example, in a case called Sutton v. United Air Lines, the court said that, when determining whether an individual has a disability under the ADA, mitigating measures – like corrective lenses, medications, hearing aids, and prosthetic devices – should be considered when deciding an impairment is substantially limiting. In 2002, in a case called Toyota v. Williams, the Supreme Court focused on the word “substantially” from the definition of disability, and determined that it means “considerably” or “to a large degree.” The Court also narrowed the scope of “major life activity,” stating that it must be something that was central importance to most people’s daily lives.

Eventually, the definition of disability was narrowed to such a degree that most cases became more about whether a person met the definition of disability, rather than focusing on access or accommodation.

The amended law contains the following rules for defining disability:

  • The definition of disability is construed in favor of broad coverage to the maximum extent permitted; and
  • The term “substantially limits” is to be interpreted consistently with the ADAAA; and
  • An impairment that substantially limits one major life activity need not limit other major life activities to be considered a disability; and
  • An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active; and
  • Mitigating measures shall not be a factor when determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity. The only mitigating measures that can be considered are ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses that fully correct visual acuity of eliminate refractive error.
  • People who are regarded as being disabled are not entitled to reasonable accommodations or modifications. Previously, courts had debated whether the ADA required having to accommodate a disability that didn’t actually exist.

Visit for the latest information about the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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Disability Rights